From then on whenever I was a-going somewhere I was a-running-a

There is this great old story in our families’ mythology where my dad and his best friend were out at the Essen Haus in Madison and spied a couple who looked like they were less than thrilled to be there. Always quite gregarious, my dad’s friend approached the couple and asked them what was wrong. They replied that they had recently moved from Los Angeles and were having trouble adjusting. My dad’s friend exclaimed that they should get down on their knees and thank their lucky stars that they had gotten out of California and moved to Wisconsin. This is how I feel about having taken up running. Don’t get me wrong- there are days where I feel like I am running through mud, but tonight as I ran under a suspended pink sky over frozen Lake Wingra I felt like I could have kept running forever- much like Mr. Gump.

I think I went close to seven miles tonight and the only reason why I stopped when I did was because I knew that there were warm molasses cookies waiting for me at home. These are pretty much my favorite cookies in the world. My mom made them last year to share with friends but I’m pretty sure that we ended up hoarding them all.

____________________________________________

This recipe is from the November 2006 issue of Bon Appetit

Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies

2 1/3 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

A pinch of cracked ground black pepper

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap)

1 large egg

About 1/2 cup sugar, for rolling

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cracked pepper. Working with a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, if you have one, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until it is smooth and creamy. Add the brown sugar and molasses and beat for 2 minutes or so to blend, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg and beat for 1 minute more. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry indgredients, mixing until the flour and spices disappear. If some of the flour remains in the bottom of the bowl, avoid overbeating the dough and mix in the last of the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula. You’ll have a smooth, very soft dough.

Divide the dough in half, wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and freeze for 30 minutes or chill for at least 1 hour. (You can refrigerate the dough for up to 4 days). Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the sugar in a small bowl. Working with one packet of dough at a time, break off 12 pieces and roll each piece into a smooth ball between your palms. One by one, roll the balls around in the bowl of sugar, then place them on the baking sheet. Dip the bottom of a glass into the sugar and use it to press down on the cookies until they are between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes*, or until the tops of the cookies feel set to the touch. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and, if the cookies have spread and are touching, use the edge of a metal spatula to separate them while they are hot. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to room temperature. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

*We only baked them for about 8 minutes

____________________________________________________

Mmmmmm

It’s taco night tonight and I plan on eating about three more cookies, at least. Let the festivities begin.

So, good news- I saw a dog today

When I got home from school today it was a balmy 32 degrees so I decided that it was definitely a day to run outside. As I slipped and slided through the slushy snow under a hazy crescent moon I saw kids skating on a neighborhood ice rink and ran past a very familiar christmas tree twinkling in the window of a house near where I went to high school. I smelled wood-burning stoves, saw countless trees aglow with those big colored bulbs that always remind me of Charlie Brown and ran past my Grandma’s old house where I spent many second Christmases (the first one being celebrated in Iowa) eating puffy cheeseballs, drinking 7-up and reading my dad’s Donald Duck comic books. It’s easy to get excited about Christmas as a kid. As an adult, I think sometimes you have to force yourself into a little bit. It’s not that I don’t get excited to spend time with my family and friends, open presents and eat lots of delicious food- I definitely look forward to those things. It’s just that as a child there is something mystical about Christmas that I find to be missing now. But I’m focusing on the little things, like giant green, red and blue-colored bulbs glowing on snow-covered pine trees, to coax myself into the season. The following is a list (in no particular order) of things that are helping me get there. Here’s to bringing some of the magic back.

1. Just Coffee’s “Peace on Earth” coffee

I was thinking about giving up coffee for the week (after an extremely jittery Monday morning) until Dan came home with this package of Just Coffee from Willy St. Co-op.

Peace on Earth coffee

2. My advent calendar

My advent calendar which Dan likes to wear on his head sometimes

My mom has been sending me this one from UNICEF the last few years. It doesn’t have the cardboard-tasting chocolate in it, but I think I like it better this way. It’s also fun when Dan opens the day and says stuff like, “Oh no, there is a giant monkey stealing Christmas presents.”

3. Thinking about this scene from “Elf”

Anyone in the Madison area have a copy I could borrow? I don’t have cable and I am jones-ing to watch it.

4. Listening to Otis Redding’s “White Christmas”

Today happens to be the anniversary of the day that Otis’s plane crashed into foggy Lake Monona in 1967. It breaks my heart a little to think that he was only 26-years-old. This beer that I am drinking is for you, Otis.

5. My Snoopy calendar

I adore my Snoopy calendar

6. Hunkering down at Mickey’s Tavern on a snowy evening for vegetarian Shepard’s Pie

Mickey's Tavern on Willy Street in Madison

The macaroni and cheese is pretty awesome too.

 7. Our visit to Mineral Point

8. Watching “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” while eating my experimental whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies

Whole wheat cookie balls ready to go into the oven

I broke about 42 rules while making these cookies and loosely followed the recipe, which isn’t so acceptable when it comes to baking. They still tasted pretty good.

9. Watching this video

I have a soft spot for Coldplay. And Christmas lights.

10. Busting out my old mix tapes

In about 1994 my best friend Meagan and I made a mix tape entitled, “Bon Hiver,” after our favorite episode of “Northern Exposure.” We took our mix tapes very seriously. It has stood the test of time despite a couple of missteps (namely Eagle’s “Hotel California”). Everytime I hear “Ruby Tuesday,” Misguided Angel,” or “The Boxer” I feel nostalgic for winter time.

11. Getting locked out of my house and…

taking a trek through a winter wonderland to my aunt and uncle’s house for a key while Dan composed a song for Clovis Mann’s upcoming Gingerbread Spectacular event: “It’s gingerbread… it’s spectacular….”

12. Listening to The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Carolina Christmas”

Gotta love The Marshall Tucker Band

It’s a pretty sweet album. It includes “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a reading of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” and “My Christmas in Custody.”

________________________________

The forecast calls for more snow and it’s time to open a new door on the calendar. Apparently this one features a plodding, giant teddy bear planning some sort of present attack. Stay tuned.